Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Love Letter to Who We Are and Who We Have Been

In the theatrical world, the human experience can be defined by complexities and details. How people act, how they live, is often dependant upon their given circumstances pertaining to physical and emotional factors that impact people at any given point in time. These small details are what have fueled the production research in this semester’s production of Fun Home. We, as the dramaturgy team, understand that the human perspective is dependant upon experiences, relationships, and significant things that impact people’s lives. With a story that chronicles life from childhood to adulthood, these factors are crucial to our understanding of Alison Bechdel’s life.

Fun Home’s dramaturgy team began pre-production work back in December 2018, with all assigned dramaturgy team members having read both the play and the graphic novel. From January to April 2019, the group of 6 students met once weekly to discuss topics of research, outreach, and concepts that needed expanding upon on the resource website called the Dramaturgy Hub. Online resource page building as a part of the Dramaturgy process began with the appointment of Dr. Toby Malone as the Theatre History/Criticism professor in Summer 2017. By using online pages for information dissemination, it creates an interactive and accessible platform for actors and production personnel to find the information they need to aid their creative process as opposed to the traditional method of making a physical binder. Dramaturgy works together to generate source pages about different topics or references that are found directly in the text, or topics that can be assessed through subtext. These ideas that we pull are oftentimes to aid the understanding of the show as a whole.

Among the concepts that we kept running into was memory. As human beings, all perceptions and opinions we have about things are based upon previous experiences and the lessons that we took away from them. These core memories that we draw on become the basis of how we as people react to situations. However, the human brain can only retain so much information, so naturally memories become less detailed with age. People often fill in those gaps what they assume to be the truth based on what they perceive. As this is a narrative piece, every character found in Alison Bechdel’s memories is in some way shaped by how she thought of them during the time she knew them. Underlying factors that may have also impacted how she recalled the memory. A factor the dramaturgy team considered was mental illness, and how that could’ve played a roll how the different characters were acting. The trauma Alison went through as a result of her father’s death is going to impact how she views every memory she had with him following his suicide.

Memory creates the framework for many aspects of how a person lives and how they perceive the world. How they perceive themself is seen in identity, another concept that the research team tackled. A key part of identity highlighted in the play was sexual identity, and how Alison grew to understand her sexuality throughout her life. Personal identities are not only defined by self perceptions, but how people portray themselves to the rest of the world. It becomes very apparent that while a person maintains who they are throughout their life, their identity can change many times throughout life. Alison had authenticity as a child that she carried through the rest of her life, seen when a young Bechdel refused dresses and had fixation on a prominent masculine woman. Who Alison always was and was meant to be remained inside her throughout her life. However, her outward identity evolved with how she saw the world and how the world saw her. Studies of the society that existed at that time, including chronicles of historical events taking place and details about the world at a glance, are a necessity to understand not only what a person would have access to but also how they would present themselves.

Alison Bechdel’s focus as a writer is always on self reflection and understanding more about her life. As the Fun Home audience experiences her story, creators can only hope that they will see a woman growing to understand not only who she is, but who she was and how she got there. When you think about your childhood, what memories impact you the most? How do you recall feeling when those things were happening? How do you feel about those events now? These small moments are the backbone of how we as human beings are now. What we believe, how we behave, these are the things that define the essence of who we are. As we grow older, memories can not only be changed with time, but through added understanding and context that we gain as adults. At a glance, a dramaturg’s job is to fill in that context that people use to find meaning. Fun Home acts as a reminder to all that each person’s experiences and past are all a part of who we are now, and should be embraced as fragments of existence.

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